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A Saudi man is sentenced to death after his tweets criticizing country's leadership

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to death over his criticism of that country's leadership. Saudi activists say his tweets and retweets were presented as evidence of his so-called crimes of insulting the king or the crown prince and supporting a terrorist ideology. NPR's Aya Batrawy reports.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Muhammad al-Ghamdi is a father of seven and a retired teacher who ran two anonymous accounts on the site formerly known as Twitter, before he was jailed last year. Human Rights Watch says the accounts had just 10 followers in total and that he mostly retweeted posts by others critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Activists say the recent death sentence issued by Saudi Arabia's specialized criminal court against al-Ghamdi is the harshest amid a wave of verdicts against Saudis for dissent online. Prison terms have ranged from 20 to 45 years in other cases. Lina Al Hathloul is a Saudi human rights activist living in exile in Europe.

LINA AL HATHLOUL: Well, I think the message is clear, is you are not safe whatever you do, whoever you are. And you have to just muzzle yourself.

BATRAWY: Saudi authorities haven't commented publicly on the case. Al-Ghamdi's older brother, Saeed, believes the case is actually aimed at pressuring him...

SAEED AL-GHAMDI: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: ...An outspoken Islamic scholar and government critic who runs a human rights group called Sanad in the U.K. He says he has resisted efforts by Saudi authorities to lure him back to Saudi Arabia, where he believes he'd be silenced. Aya Batrawy, NPR News, Dubai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.